The stranger made his appearance punctually. I guessed him to be some two or three years younger than myself. He was undeniably handsome; his manners were the manners of a gentleman - and yet, without knowing why, I felt a strong dislike to him the moment he entered the room.
After the first preliminary words of politeness had been exchanged between us, my visitor informed me as follows of the object which he had in view.
'I believe you live in the country, sir?' he began.
'I live in the West of England,' I answered.
'Do you make a long stay in London?'
'No. I go back to my rectory to-morrow.'
'May I ask if you take pupils?'
'Have you any vacancy?'
'I have one vacancy.'
'Would you object to let me go back with you to-morrow, as your pupil?'
The abruptness of the proposal took me by surprise. I hesitated.
In the first place (as I have already said), I disliked him. In the second place, he was too old to be a fit companion for my other two pupils - both lads in their teens. In the third place, he had asked me to receive him at least three weeks before the vacation came to an end. I had my own pursuits and amusements in prospect during that interval, and saw no reason why I should inconvenience myself by setting them aside.
He noticed my hesitation, and did not conceal from me that I had disappointed him.
'I have it very much at heart,' he said, 'to repair without delay the time that I have lost. My age is against me, I know. The truth is - I have wasted my opportunities since I left school, and I am anxious, honestly anxious, to mend my ways, before it is too late. I wish to prepare myself for one of the Universities - I wish to show, if I can, that I am not quite unworthy to inherit my father's famous name. You are the man to help me, if I can only persuade you to do it. I was struck by your sermon yesterday; and, if I may venture to make the confession in your presence, I took a strong liking to you. Will you see my father, before you decide to say No? He will be able to explain whatever may seem strange in my present application; and he will be happy to see you this afternoon, if you can spare the time. As to the question of terms, I am quite sure it can be settled to your entire satisfaction.'
He was evidently in earnest - gravely, vehemently in earnest. I unwillingly consented to see his father.
Our interview was a long one. All my questions were answered fully and frankly.
The young man had led an idle and desultory life. He was weary of it, and ashamed of it. His disposition was a peculiar one. He stood sorely in need of a guide, a teacher, and a friend, in whom he was disposed to confide. If I disappointed the hopes which he had centered in me, he would be discouraged, and he would relapse into the aimless and indolent existence of which he was now ashamed. Any terms for which I might stipulate were at my disposal if I would consent to receive him, for three months to begin with, on trial.
Still hesitating, I consulted my father and my friends.
They were all of opinion (and justly of opinion so far) that the new connection would be an excellent one for me. They all reproached me for taking a purely capricious dislike to a well-born and well-bred young man, and for permitting it to influence me, at the outset of my career, against my own interests. Pressed by these considerations, I allowed myself to be persuaded to give the new pupil a fair trial. He accompanied me, the next day, on my way back to the rectory.